16 year olds, the vote and drivers licenses

An Adult Maturity Test?

By —— Bio and Archives--March 24, 2008

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The current debate on whether 16–year–olds should be considered mature enough to vote, while at the same time urging the government to lift their drivers licenses if they refuse to stay in school until they are eighteen, is causing us, once more, to ponder the definition of adulthood and the appropriateness of treating juveniles as adults, especially in the law courts.


It’s easy to understand why people would have mixed feelings about treating teens as adults when they see violent young criminals treated leniently by the courts because they are not considered mature enough to be fully responsible for their criminal actions. The real problem, however, is we can’t seem to make up our minds on when the transformation from youth to adult takes place. At what age do we go to bed as boys and girls and wake up as men and women?

Seeing that there are so many childish adults around - especially behind the steering wheel - It might be a good idea for the government to introduce a national maturity test which everyone would be required to pass before being issued their adult papers. A maturity test would be a big improvement on the current practice of setting an arbitrary age of majority which can be raised or lowered according to political whim.

Once upon a time the age of majority was set at 21, and everyone, more or less, agreed that this was about the right age to put away childish things. Then someone or, more likely, a committee, decided that 18 was the magic age that boys and girls are suddenly transformed into men and women in the eyes of the law, if not in the eyes of their parents. As adults, 18-year-olds automatically acquire the right to vote, to marry without their parents’ consent, and are subject to compulsory military service if necessary. They are not, however, considered mature enough to have a glass of wine with dinner, to puff on a cigarette or, in some places, purchase a lottery ticket. In order to indulge in these sinful acts they have to attain adulthood plus one year.

Yet they are deemed mature enough at 16 to drive a car without indulging in such childish behavior as road-rage. At a political meeting I once heard a candidate for the school board say that it would be a good idea to punish any student found in possession of a cigarette, whether lit or unlit, on school property. His reasoning for this draconian proposal: “it is easier to nip substance abuse in the bud than to deal with it once it has become an addiction.”

Be that as it may, this proposal wouldn’t have a constitutional leg to stand on. In fact, the first time the laws prohibiting the purchase of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes by young adults are challenged in court they will, in all likelihood, be ruled unconstitutional because, in this case, as Charles Dickens would surely agree: “The law is a #, a idiot.” Anyway, whether we set the age of majority at 16, 19 or 25 is beside the point. And the point is, there should be no such thing as senior and junior adults. Once a person becomes an adult legally that should be it. Period. ‘

There should be no ifs, ands or buts about it.


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William Bedford -- Bio and Archives | Comments

CFP “Poet in Residence” William Bedford was born in Dublin, Ireland, but has lived in Toronto for most of his life.  His poems and articles have been published in many Canadian journals and in some American publications.

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